RACE REPORT: Toronto Beach Jazz Run – My 1st Half Marathon

The short story of how I ended up registering for my first halfmarathon

toronto beach jazz run half marathon route

My wife saw the Toronto Beach Jazz Run race about a month or so ago and asked me if I don’t want to register but she was talking about the 10k race and not the half marathon. I registered to half right away and by the time she came back at my desk I was all a smile. $70, take my money! She couldn’t believe her eyes and ears that I registered for a half marathon knowing that I never ran one in my entire life. Still I had a 20k run one night not long before I registered for this race so I kind of knew I can do it. My main concern was the time. Could I get a good time?

The problem was that after registration I needed to work late over the following days and there was also an unplanned vacation down south that happened and where it was very hot for running. I only managed to put in two runs each no longer than 8k in 30 plus Celsius. If there is something that I cannot stand is the heat and the hills. Both happen to start with letter H, no pun intended. So here I was, back from vacation with only 2 weeks remaining until my first half marathon ever. If you count in one week of tapering then basically I was left with only 7 days to train. And by the way I came back from vacation 2 pounds heavier. Sigh.

Training, what is that?

The only upside of my pre race weeks was that I found a running club, close to my home at Yonge & Eglinton, called Toronto Running Club (it couldn’t be more generic than this) and I actually pushed myself a bit more with the club than I usually do in my solo runs. In fact I pushed so much over a 11.5k run in one evening that the guy who I was running with (seasoned runner with 45 marathons under his belt) got some sort of an injury and couldn’t run for two weeks or so. Hardcore!

Despite the short time for training pre-half marathon, I squeezed in a couple of good runs but no longer than 12k. Even in the week of the race I managed to run Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The guys at the club made some jokes, calling my tapering, “Vic’s tapering”.

Peanut butter champion

Just a couple of days before the race, I listened to a couple of interesting episodes from Run to the Top podcast, which I added recently to my ever growing podcasts list, about the best food to eat the night before the race and in the morning of the race. This is how I found out that peanut butter is great for runners because is increasing the glycogen levels before a race. I also learned that a calories rich dinner the night before a race can help tremendously. So what I did is having a peanut butter sandwich around 7PM and another one around 10PM and one more in the race day morning around 5AM. I don’t know if the peanut butter saved my day and helped me finish strong but certainly something did.

Ohhh my, the pre-running race sleep is always bad

I have a bad sleep usually before a race day but apparently all racers have it. What I need to pay attention to is to the sleep from 2 nights pior the racing day. It kind of makes sense and indeed I had a pretty good one, probably around 7 hours of good sleep. The night before the race I could only sleep for about 5 hours.

21℃ at 5AM. Wait, what?!?

The weather is always a hit or miss in Toronto. While at the beginning of the week, the temperature dropped so it was nice for running (15℃ or so Wednesday), it gradually increased so on the race day at 5 o’clock in the morning it was 21℃ with 60% humidity. 21℃ is not necessarily a bad temperature but by the time the race started at 7AM, it was 24℃ already. The best part was that the race happened mostly in the shade and to be honest the sun wasn’t that hot even when I finished.

Race on!

The gun went off at 7AM sharp and we were 437 runners at the starting line. I positioned myself somewhere in the first group just behind the pacers, on the right side of the path. I just wish now seeing the race pictures that I was at the front so I can get better pictures. It was sunny morning but it was great in the shade under the trees.

The running route was almost flat with the exception of some small hills with a total of 6 meters elevation gain. We started at Kew Balmy Beach 1 at the Woodbine beaches, on the Martin Goodman Trail, continued on it passing the Beaches Park, through Ashbridges Bay park, then a bit on the Lakeshore Blvd. E south sidewalk until we reached Leslie St. After that we turned right on Unwin Ave on which we turned back at the end. Then we went back on Leslie St. towards Tommy Thompson Park which we passed at km 6. We kept running on the trail to the end of it, then we came back. My Strava showed me 21.5K when I finished but my Fitbit Surge displayed 21.09k total running distance.

fitbit stats Toronto beach jazz run half marathon

I had a simple plan for the race, start at my pace and keep at it until the last kilometers, then gradually increase to finish with a negative split and hopefully in one piece plus a good time overall. But that is me before a race. Me in the race is something like “what? is it someone running in front of me? No way, I cannot let that happen!”. Jokes aside, we had a couple of official pacers running with us. I just don’t remember seeing pacers at the Sporting Life 10k I participated this year but I can tell you, if you ever see pacers they are godsend. Stick with them. Lucky me I had my friend and coach Adrian running with me at Sporting Life and he gave a great pace too.

So what I ended up doing is picking one of those pacers, the one holding the 1h50min sign and sticking to them for the first half of the race. Once I passed the mid point I started accelerating and running faster passing runner after runner. I’m always amazed of how many runners start very fast and then they get tired and start loosing ground in the second half. I think I easily passed 10 runners in the last 10k. My music helped as well. My Spotify running playlist to which I keep adding new great running tunes is invaluable. It holds a steady and fast beat that matches my strides and there are a couple of powerful songs in there that really settle me into a great pace. Check it out!

Hydration: when and what?

I had my first water at kilometer 9. I can run easily 12 or even more without water but I thought I needed to start earlier this time since I would be running close to 2 hours. At kilometer 11 I had the first Gatorade then another one after a couple more kilometers. This race I decided I would stop for drinks instead of running and drinking which didn’t really worked at the previous race for Sporting Life where I mostly poured water on me instead of drinking. So I stopped each time for a couple of seconds, gulped the liquids and back at it.

strava stats beach jazz run half marathon heart rate

I had lowered my pace to under 5 minutes per km in between kilometer 14 to 19 which felt great passing runners but I had a little bit of a struggle somewhere in between 19 and the end of the race. My energy started to run off rapidly but I was happy getting closer and closer to the finish line that I really didn’t care anymore. I kept powering through to get it done, hopefully alive.

Could I have pushed harder? I surely could. For the next half marathon I plan to start running faster around km 9. This should give me enough time to catch up with a much better pace and eventually finish in 1 hour and 45 minutes or even faster. Still the temperatures remains crucial so I will recalculate my speed base on that.

Official Race results


HALF MARATHON
Finished 85th place out of 437
Gender Group 63rd place out of 232
Age Group 40-49 18th place out of 59
Start Time 06:59:32.6
5k 00:25:50.3
10k 00:51:37.7
11.1k 00:57:01.6
Elapsed 01:47:28.4
Pace 05:05 min/km

Running with a buddy or not?

I don’t necessarily mind having a conversation while running but a race is just too serious to not stay focused. Plus everyone has a different speed. I don’t like the idea of holding someone’s back and I certainly hate it being held back. For that reason I like racing alone. I also love running with music. It helps me keep my pace, keeps my mind busy with something else than the race and more important, I don’t hear myself breathing heavily which distracts me every time.

If you have a buddy to give you a great race pace, that is gold. Like I did with the official pacers, it helped me checking on my watch less and put mind at ease.

Plans for the future

I would like to continue running long distances and eventually start running marathons one day. However, I don’t like following scheduled training so what I plan to do is increasing the weekly mileage. For example right now I usually do 10-12k. I will increase to 15k for a while, then I will do 20k and so on until I get to marathon distances. There is also a problem of hydration and food. I don’t like the idea of running with water nor the idea of consuming protein gels or protein bars. Probably I can get along with an nutrition plan designed for running though even there it’s so much to plan and think about and I don’t like that part. I like lacing up my shoes and just go for a run.

But enough already about me, what’s your running plan?

Running in heath

I ran Saturday night in 27C heat a 10k and I almost gave up, that hot it was after 10PM! My legs were jelly way before finishing. It seems hot is not my friend. However I did the same route, another 10k yesterday and while it was still hot it wasn’t that bad like the day before so I almost beat my personal best time, with a pace of 4min 46sec per km. Not bad at all. My new shoes might have helped, experimenting these days with a pair with better cushion because of my plantar fasciitis.

One thing I noticed from the time it started being this hot is that I am really thirsty after my runs. Before, I didn’t even feel I wanted to drink water after a 10k but now all I do after getting home is gulping 2-3 glasses one after another. Also having a cold watermelon or Santa’s melon helps me cool down easily. I checked my heartbeat on my fitbit and it’s easily over 10 heartbeats over my regular, even close to 200 per minute which is insane. I was literally dropping sweat on the elevator floor last night. And I always thought winter is the worst. How do you cope with hot weather?

I ran 20 km for the first time. It’s savage

I was for the first time thirsty and for the first time my legs wouldn’t listen to me anymore. 20 km running is in these 2 ways so different than a 10k. I almost stumbled to finish the run. But hey, it’s been my first 20k run and it feels great!

I couldn’t wait to get home in bed and to drink 10 gallons of water. Despite everything, the weather was perfect with the cool wind blowing gently in the Forest Hill village where I run. It’s also the first time I started easy and being able to keep a steady pace a bit over 5 min per kilometer.

I usually run like a maniac always checking my pace and it’s just brutal. But, after all, it appears to me I enjoy more running further than faster. Not that I don’t care about pace anymore. I managed to get a great 5:21 min per km and it is good enough achievement to me.

20k running in Forest Hill, Toronto
20k running in Forest Hill, Toronto

I’m running like a caveman. Probably I will always do. I cannot follow any training. I basically jumped from 10k to 20k in one run. Forget about increasing gradually, it’s not for me. Now my only concern is to not get an injury.

I’m just too obsessed of putting my shoes on and just doing it. Sure, I’m reading books of famous athletes like Dean Karnazes, Charlie Engle or the one I’m onto it now, Chrissie Wellington, a world top Iron Man winner but it’s mostly for the motivation, for the shivers down my spine – they truly make me run more, no doubt about it. Following their advice? Heck no. In a way, listening to everyone and following no one is the way it should be, because we are all different. And after all, it’s not much advice in these books anyway. But boy, isn’t their stories a pure drug?!? I just cannot get enough of it!

The perfect weather last night was just too hard to miss. The cold brisk air was perfection. I knew it I will run longer because I thought for the whole weekend about it though I planned for Sunday morning and I ended up running in the evening after some walks with my wife, 2 steaks, one beer and a cheesecake plus some other stuff I don’t remember. But I knew it, when going out the door, that I am set for 20k. I had some thoughts about doing 21 so it was half marathon but by the time I was running the last kilometer I was on jelly legs so I ended up stopping at 20 which is not bad anyway.

When people say, running is hard on knees I never believed them until last night. Even today my knee caps are all painful. Well, I also walked to work as I usually do, so these 9k in the morning count as well. I never had issues with my knees while running but I do feel pain while on bicycle, especially uphill. It was all great for the first 15-16 km, then the pain started and for the last kilometer or so it’s a bit blurry. The music helped me keeping a steady pace. BTW, I will be creating soon a new playlist in Spotify with an increased tempo then the current one. Some really great songs.

Now put on your running shoes and go for a run. Just do it.

Toronto 10K Sporting Life: Running is War

toronto sporting life 10k
toronto sporting life 10k

3 weeks passed from the Toronto Sporting Life 10k as I felt like I needed to let this sink for a bit before saying anything.

It’s been my first official 10k, my first race and it felt like such an undertake at least for the time between registration and the race day. I felt nothing really during the event except my legs burning and my gasps for air hurting my lungs before the finish line. However, I was a bit mental the night before, waking up at 2 am and never been able to get back to sleep. I was tired, scared but excited. I ran 10k before but having my friend and couch running with me gave me the much needed confidence to register for the race in the first place.

So here I am, leaving my home at 6:30 am to be at the scheduled race start at 7:15. It was a delirious cold morning at close to 0℃ so I rode my mountain bike like a maniac to warm a bit in my shorts and t-shirt. The garbage bag I shove on my head must have had made of me just another clown. So good there wasn’t anyone that Sunday morning on the streets.

I arrived at the race start, met Adrian (my friend and coach) and his lovely Karin and off we went, slow at the beginning since I was literally rubbing shoulders with the pack, no shoulder room. However I was able to speed up a bit while still keeping a safe pace. Easy first two km, constant under five minutes per km after that and go as fast as you can for the last 2 km, said coach Adrian. So we did. The start of the race was at Roselawn St. and Yonge St., just north of Eglinton and there is not much uphill but mostly downhill. Now, I know for a fact, downhills are some little son of a bitches, at least for me but it wasn’t​ the case here. The map on the official race website is wrong and apparently it’s like this for some time since Adrian told me that we will turn right at Adelaide though the map says Wellington. Not that it makes much difference but just in case you are more of a control freak and want to know exactly where you will be running.

Strava stats – Sporting Life 10k Toronto

I saw kids and people of all ages running. Women and men. Running for different reasons, women for the fellowship, men because we are all scared of sickness and getting old. It’s true. At a point in the race I saw someone stumbling to the ground, getting back up and continuing.

My legs started hurting at the mid point but I continued relentlessly as my coach kept increasing the pace in the second half. He kept asking me to get water at the hydration areas and I tried 2 times but not with much success. I didn’t want to stop and most of the water from the little cups ended up on my shirt and shorts.

toronto sporting life 10k
toronto sporting life 10k

It’s always something with kilometer 7. It’s like a transition of some sort when my body tells itself, “Wait, this is serious business, we are indeed set for a run. Embrace yourself!”. It’s there when my mind starts its little games and I get to start telling myself, it’s only three km left. Then two. Then one. I always found the encouragements from the side a bit silly but you know something, they work. A little, go go go, goes a long way especially during the last kilometers.

Then like in a dream I heard someone calling my name, my son next to my wife! Once he saw me, he ran in parallel, on the other side of the fence towards the finish line. That was emotional. With the coach falling behind to let me finish, my son and wife cheering from my left, I finished the Toronto 10K Sporting Life race in 00:45:37 with a negative split (yeah I learned about negative splits right then, apparently a big deal for every athlete). Overall place 1121 out of 18501, category age 40 to 44, 86 out of 728 and place by gender, 906 out of 7928. To twist a bit a line we hear before the movie starts at the theater, you are faster than you think.

As you might have noticed, the stats are a bit different from Fitbit to Strava to the official race states. My official pace was 4:33, on my Fitbit Surge was 4:29 and my Strava one was 4:21. It’s like this because of the time when I started and when I stopped Fitbit and Strava. Anyway, Strava and Fitbit give me different times even when I start and stop both in the same time. Must be the geolocation or some calculation they do different.

Don’t get stacked in numbers. Put your shoes on and go for a run.

If running is a war, the mind is the big tough boss at the end. You know what I mean if you play video games. Races end, running continues.

Another great running book

50/50: Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days and How You Too Can Achieve Super Endurance!I started reading a new running book about running marathons written by the same great ultra-marathon runner, Dean Karnazes and it’s great though I was more interested into his advice for runners and less the story part.

The book doesn’t have much tips and tricks for runners or at least not for now since I just started it. In fact it feels like I’m just continuing reading his other running book I mentioned before. I just hope Dean will provide some solid help for runners. I kind of prefer following a handful of seasoned runners like Dean Karnazes or Charlie Engle than searching the web – too much junk out there.

Will keep you posted if it worth a read.

Thoughts on running (I)

My first 10k runs were all stiff but I noticed if I move my body a bit more I run easier. I rotate now slightly from left to right when I run, syncing my arms movement with my strides. Makes me less tired at the end. I’m not sure why but this extra motion helps me.

Another thing I started in the last runs is alternating different strides and it works to my advantage. For example I run one-two kilometers with large strides, then I run with smaller ones balancing left and right when I move. Then I run more like a robot, stiff for some time and I repeat. Think of the Terminator running after Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2. Alternating different movements and running styles keeps my mind also busy.

I noticed that I run faster, longer and with less effort when I think about stuff. It’s usually work related. If I can keep my mind busy with something and forgetting about the fact that I run, I definitely can run more.

I start slower now and build speed over time. I noticed that if I run this way, I don’t get tired that easily.

When I broke the 8k barrier I skipped the walking 9k to work thinking that it will help me not getting tired for the run in the evening. However, I once went for a run in a day when I also walked to work. The weather was too nice to not run. What happened was against my expectations, I ran at last as easily as when I didn’t walked in the morning.

And one more thing. What it surely throws me off is a bad night of sleep. That alone puts me down, especially if I had a few drinks the day before. The level of energy is much lower than in any other circumstances.

What did you observe when you run? Tell me about your running journey?

I started reading the Running Man and I love it


I started two days ago reading (I actually listen to the audio book on my commute) to the Running Man, Charlie Engle‘s book and I love it. The audio book is narrated by the man himself and boy, isn’t this the most beautifully written running book of all times? Don’t get me wrong, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner, written by Dean Karnazes, which I finished not long ago, is an amazing book too but for whatever reason Charlie Engle resonates more with me. Actually Charlie Engle and Dean Karnazes met at multiple events, one of the most famous being Bed Water.

Anyway, if you are looking for something to get you off the chair, try Running Man or Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner, or both. They both give me that feeling that I can put on my running shoes and I can run night and day for forever. This, if you are looking for some motivation.

Great reads!

My first 10k run and why you can do it too

I just finished my first 10 km run ever. I used to run a lot when I was in high school so I might have had better runs, but for now, this is my best so far I remember.

I started the day with my daily 9 km walk to my work, from midtown where are live to downtown area. That takes usually around 1 hour and 30 minutes. I felt stuffed after yesterday, it’s the Romanian tradition to eat till you drop for Easter. So I did. Today I felt guilty but I recovered quite fast and in the afternoon I knew I’m gonna have my first 10k run this evening. I also felt bad because I was supposed to run yesterday as part of my 2-days run per week, preparation for the 10k sportinglife run. One more reason to push myself on the track today.

I ran 10.3 km, the race took 51:46 min at a pace of 5:01 minutes per kilometer. I was a bit slower than usual since I usually stay under 5 min but hey, it was a 10k run and I’m happy about it.

first 10k run
first 10 km run on strava

It’s the first time this year I run in a shirt only (bye Under Armor fleece) and I congratulate myself because I became hot really fast despite the cold wind. It’s also the first time I ran quite effortlessly. I regularly feel pain in my body, muscle aches and discomfort but I believe the trick is to find my rhythm and keep at it all the way. So I’m just guessing my rhythm is around 5 m/km. Also the sleep the night before has a huge impact on my level of energy. I must have gotten a good rest.

I usually start strong, then get tired and run slower and then towards the end I find my pace and I run constantly on an upward trend, finishing even faster than I start. Today it kinda happen the same though the second part of the run was clearly slower than the first half.

While I was running I felt that everyone can do it. Everyone can run. Maybe not 10k from first but I believe anyone can run a couple of kilometers right of the bat with no training.

Here some things I do that help me with my running and hopefully it will help you too:

  • I created a great running music playlist and I crank the volume up a notch so I don’t hear myself when I breath heavily. My breathing gets steadier and smoother after the first kilometers though but at times, at the beginning at the race at least, I can hear myself breathing and that might stop me if I hear it all the time.
  • I selected the music by BPM. My playlist has in between 120 to 135 BPM and it’s also all positive and jumpy and that helps me with my mood and make me push harder and longer
  • I switched from my old Merell shoes to New Balance and that alone ramped up my pace to about 30 seconds per kilometer. Unreal!
  • I don’t eat or I have only a bite before run.
  • I have a little water, maybe half a glass or even no water at all before run.
  • Sometimes I take a 30 min nap, sometimes, like today, I jump directly in my running clothes, put my shoes on and I go running right after work. I noticed the more I stay and think of it and the more I plan the run, the more tiresome I get mentally and that usually doesn’t make for a great run

Try these and let me know how it goes for you. Cheers for a better run!

Sporting Life 10k coming up

strava running route

I signed up for Sporting Life 10k run race here in Toronto. It’s on May 14, exactly one month from now. I’m excited and scared in the same time. So far I didn’t get the chance to run more than 8.8 km. Yesterday I created a 10 km running route on Strava and I will have to stick to it until the race. I’m​ pushing hard when I run. My best time is 4:38 minutes per kilometer but I’m​ usually close to 5 min. I should be fine if I stay below 5. I signed up for the 3rd wave and I’m suposed to finish under 55 minutes for the blue ribbon. It means my average pace per kilometer should be below 5:50. I guess I shouldn’t be concerned. Still I’m yet to run a full 10 km. And I know the last kilometers make such a difference.

Will I have enough energy to run if I’m dieting?

I’m back at running after 20 years or so of not doing anything except riding my bike. And you know what? I am faster and I run longer than ever before. I’m not talking about when I was in high school and when I was able to run endlessly. Or, let’s just say, I am much better now than when I was years ago when I was overweight. Being skinnier helps me. But it’s not just that. It’s the energy. I just have much more now. Let me give you another example. When I was over 200 lbs I could barely move from my sofa after biking home from work. The daily biking beat the life out of me. Now I even take my wife for walks, play basketball with my son or even run 9 km in the evenings. In fact I walk 9 km to work in the morning and run twice a week. That is easily 60 km per week. The energy level increased so much.